The Headless Woman (La mujer sin cabeza)

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
  The Headless Woman (La mujer sin cabeza)
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Veronica (Maria Onetto) is an active woman with a busy life. While driving down a deserted road, her cell phone rings and she digs into bag to retrieve it, taking her eyes off of the road at a critical time. She hit something and simply drove away from the scene. This  act will have a deeply psychological impact upon “The Headless Woman.”

Robin gives "The Headless Woman" a B.


Verónica (María Onetto) is a well off professional Argentinean woman who hits something on a deserted road and drives away.  For several days she seems to be in a trance until she suddenly tells her husband Marcos (César Bordón) 'I think I killed someone' in "The Headless Woman."

Writer/director Lucrecia Martel ("The Holy Girl") is not a linear storyteller and her work is definitely for the art house crowd.  With "The Headless Woman," she has created a fascinating portrayal of a woman who seems to become submerged underwater, who floats through several days barely aware of her own identity, only to reemerge with a nagging conscience and evidence of her whereabouts erased.

We see several native Indian boys and a dog playing on the side of the road Vero travels before her accident, and although when she looks back it is the dog she sees, the hand prints of a child on her driver's side window tell another story.  Vero acts oddly, walking out of the hospital where she's had her head x-rayed and checking into a hotel where she initiates sex with a man who is not her husband.  Vero doesn't seem to recognize people, not even her own family shown in a wedding video and when her maid says her office is calling she simply replies she has no car.  Arriving there, she sits in the reception area with her patients.  She accepts a gift from her receptionist only to be told she had asked for it to be bought as a present for her aunt.  Onetto plays this part of her role with a vague smile on her face, like a daydreaming child being led around by the hand. There are unsettling animal inferences as well, like the turtles which will be killed by a pool (all of Martel's films prominently feature pools) built behind a vet's because of chlorine.  An animal we cannot quite see is given to a maid to butcher, the sound of knives sharpening as Vero waits for her taxi to work.

When Vero 'comes to,' however, Martel starts layering in more and more subtext.  Having already introduced the idea that all the women in Vero's family 'go crazy' via the character of Vero's senile Tía Lala (is that a sense of humor I detect?), Vero tries to recreate her movements after the accident.  Marcos drives her to the accident site and insists she only hit a dog (later we will see emergency crews at the same spot where 'something' is clogging a sewer drain in the canal).  The hospital has no record of her admittance. Hotel reception tells her room 818 was unoccupied the previous weekend.  Marcos has her car repaired. When she attempts to move forward, landscaping around her house, she is told by the nursery owner that he cannot get her pots as the boy who arranged them all has been missing.  Vero dyes her platinum blond hair back to its natural brown and begins to atone.  The boy who arrives to deliver her plants is given old clothes and we see her tending to poor native children at a ramshackle clinic.

"The Headless Woman" is a shimmering mystery of the human mind wrapped inside racial, class and gender issues. It's the type of film that will reward repeated viewings.

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